"The Heart of the Matter"

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Transcripts: 542-2 to 542-4

Week: 542.2 Guest: Mary Woolley, President, Research America Topic: Medical Research Studies- American's Polled on Medical Research Issues, Part One of Three Producer/Host: Steve Girard

NEMA: We're lucky today to have Mary Woolley, the president of Research America, with us today to begin a series on how we feel about the state of medical research, and which health problems rank highest with us...

WOOLLEY: What we do is try to keep the public informed about research, not just technical aspects that people might be interested in, but also about ways that members of the public can take action to assure that research gets a chance to deliver on all of what science has to offer in terms of coming up with cures for diseases that we don't have the answers for yet, prevention's for diseases that scare a lot of us... including Alzheimer's, AIDS, cancer and so forth...and the eradication of diseases for our children and grandchildren.

NEMA: How does your organization try to raise awareness of the needs and possibilities of research....?

WOOLLEY: The idea is to find out whether there are significant differences in different parts of the country, when it comes to the public's interest level and support level in medical research and other health related issues. It turns out, Steve, that virtually everyone is positive about medical research, and that's not a surprise, because nearly everyone has been touched in some way, either personally or in their family, by disease or disability that we just don't have the answer for, medically, yet. And that people are waiting for a breakthrough on.

NEMA: I think many people feel medical research happens, out there' somewhere...and don't feel connected with it...

WOOLLEY: I think that's a very common perception, that vague, faraway feeling that most of the folks in this country have about science, because for years, the scientific community rather reveled in the idea of working in the ivory tower, away from the scrutiny, sometimes, of the public. But that's not what the science community is really intending to do at this time. The science community wants to be better connected to the public that supports it. People may think that science is doing literally all it can right now to advance the boundaries of our knowledge, in terms, especially, of health related research. But that's not really true. Science is doing all that it can, given the priority, which is actually rather low, that we place on science in this nation. It wasn't too long ago that about half of the qualified, meaning graded excellent, proposals for funding from the federal government could be funded with taxpayer dollars. We're now down to about 15%...and what that translates to is waiting as much as 5 times as long as we might otherwise wish, for results. And that's a little known fact that members of the public can, in fact, influence by insisting that the federal government do a better job of funding medical research, and make it a higher priority.

NEMA: Mary Woolley of Research America in Washington. We'll talk again, about the competing, and sometimes conflicting reports on medical studies, the recent survey of your ideas on America's health problems, and your overall attitudes toward medical research, its funding, and its impact on your communities. I'm Steve Girard.

Transcripts:

Week: 542.3 Guest: Mary Woolley, President, Research America Topic: Medical Research studies-The reasons behind conflicting reports, Part Two of Three Producer/Host: Steve Girard

NEMA: We're with Mary Woolley of Research America, which regularly asks us how we feel about medical research, its direction and funding. Mary, many folks I come into contact with are more than a bit confused by conflicting research studies...that seem to contradict each other after supposedly looking into the same or similar issues.

WOOLLEY: Steve, I think two things are going on: First of all, the issues in medical science that have easy answers have already been established...you know, we're not working on the easy stuff anymore. We know, for example, that cigarette smoking is bad for you, period...and there's a whole range of issues on which we have the answer...but, in the last 25 years or so, when we've been tackling the much more complicated questions, where there's a lot of factors that can't be controlled in the classic laboratory sense, which makes the science of it much more difficult...we are definitely finding what appear to be, and are, conflicting results from one study to another. And this is just partly just an issue of more complicated issues being studied, but also an issue of science, like a lot of other things in the late 20th century, getting all the information out there even before we have definitive answers. So, we're getting a chance to see science in process...and I think it does sometimes lead people to wonder,' what is the answer'?...is red wine good for you if you have heart disease, or is it not? Or I guess the latest one is chocolate now...just last week... but the era of keeping it all secret until we have the definitive word is over.

NEMA: Tell me about the survey most recently conducted by Research America in California, Texas and Florida...?

WOOLLEY: Well, what we did was interview a thousand people in each of those states, and we discovered that, as we had found in other states and nationally, that people are very supportive of this country being a leader in medical research, of their state being a leader and having increased access to the results of the science, whether that be in a medical sense or a basic knowledge sense. And we find that people say they are willing to spend more money on medical research, through one of a number of mechanisms: more money on each prescription drug, if they would know that extra dollar would go to medical research...if everybody in this country paid a dollar more a week on their health insurance premium, if everyone did that, we would boost medical research spending and thus, medical research productivity by a factor of 3 or 4 very quickly. It's rather surprising that we hear consistently, all across the country, that more people than not say they'd be willing to spend more in their taxes - as much as a dollar more a week - in taxes to support more medical research. But it's not remarkable when we put it in the context of how positive the population is in terms of let's put research to work'.

NEMA: Which American health issues are at the top of your priority list? I bet I know the top two.... And do you know about the government branch which distributes most of our federal research money? Mary Woolley will join us again for the last in our series on medical research to give us the answers. I'm Steve Girard.

Week: 542.4 Guest: Mary Woolley, President, Research America Topic: Medical Research studies- Americas top health concerns, Part Three of Three Producer/Host: Steve Girard

NEMA: Once again, we're with Research America president Mary Woolley, talking about the organization's poll on how we feel about medical issues, like medical research and funding. Your survey asked participants to name what they believe are the top health concerns in the country right now..

WOOLLEY: Right. Number one and two in these three states, California, Texas and Florida, as all across the country, are AIDS and cancer. And they're followed by heart disease and stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer's, mental health. People are really terrified of AIDS... it's a disease that's uniformly terminal, it scares people to death, and even if they don't believe that they or someone in their family is in imminent danger of being infected, they also understand by now that this is the kind of a disease that can reach epidemic proportions. Secondly, cancer has long ranked high as a disease that is feared, and though there are many different kinds of cancer, and research has succeeded in virtually eliminating the death threat that's associated with, for example, childhood leukemia, there's a lot of other cancers that we don't have all the answers to yet.

NEMA: Your poll found that the National Institutes of Health, which includes the National Cancer Institute - the largest research institute in the world - as just one of its agencies, operates pretty much out of the limelight....

WOOLLEY: I think one of the reasons people don't know much about it is that it is not the place that actually conducts research, although they do some research at the location of NIH, which is in Bethesda, but the lion's share of the money that taxpayers funnel through the National Institutes of Health for research goes to institutions in every one of the 50 states. So, that people when they read in their hometown newspaper some new research finding, they'll associate it with the university that's down the street or in the next town. But the money came from the National Institutes of Health, and ultimately the federal government.

NEMA: People would be happy knowing that their contributions are going to that research, and that people in their town are growing our knowledge base...

WOOLLEY: It makes people feel good to know that part of their tax dollar, admittedly a very tiny part - less than one percent - is going to a public good, i.e., medical research, but most people just don't understand how it all works. Right now, we're only spending a little over one cent of every health care dollar through our taxes, on medical research. We spend another cent and a half through our consumer dollars, through the pharmaceutical and biotech industries and their products on research. But even so, that still adds up to only about three cents on the dollar investing in the future of your own health and that of your family. We really believe and we find that most of the people around the country believe that it's time to talk about doubling that amount, at a minimum.

NEMA: Mary Woolley of Research America says 64% of those polled said a candidates support for increased medical research would influence their voting decision...and she hopes that will help politicians see it's a big issue with a lot of people. Want to get active? Give a call, letter or e-mail to your legislator...or drop an e-mail to Research America at researcham@ aol.com to find out what you can do. I'm Steve Girard.

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